Stars – Vincent Price, Eva Gabor, Patrick O’Neal, Lenitia Lane, John Emery, The Three Stooges
Director – John Brahm
Released by Twilight Time
Limited edition of 3,000 Units
Available at Screenarchives.com and Twilighttimemovies.com
Reviewed by Steven Ruskin
Despite being something of a Mulligan’s Stew with a heapin’ helpin’ of House of Wax hot sauce there is a lot to like in The Mad Magician. Vincent Price plays an inventor of elaborate magic tricks. Lately he has had it with a string of puffed up magicians using his tricks to make their fame and fortune. He has scraped together enough money to finance his own show. He figures he can do his own tricks. He also uses super realistic masks to impersonate the very magicians who normally perform his tricks. We see him do a clever bit with a magic wand transferring spouts of water from here to there. There is a magic consultant in the credits leaving one to believe that some of less complicated tricks are done for real. Fooled me either way. The masks that Vincent Price uses are also incredibly well done. Although the actual faces that he wears are done by the other actors in the film. Ted Newsom points out in the excellent Making Of featurette that it is the same stunt that Martin Landau used to do in all those Mission Impossible TV shows when he impersonated someone. Right as Price is ready to unveil his thrilling new buzz saw trick the cops come in and stop the show. His evil and despicable boss claims he owns the rights to everything Price created whether at work or on his own. He even has the obnoxious Renaldo the Magician in tow.
Naturally Price gets mad, hence the title. He uses his new buzz saw trick to start his trail of revenge. It’s a scary sequence with a huge circular saw blade. He tops it later on in the picture with a flaming incinerator chamber. It’s pretty clear that Price is kinda doing much of what he did in the more stylized House of Wax movie a year earlier. Instead of his precious wax figures being burned down he has his fabulous tricks stolen from him. The setting is yet another city in the Elizabethan time period. Amidst the plot and character borrowings one device stood out to me. When Price needs to dispose of a body, without a head, he disguises it as a football player complete with a helmet and marches off with it over his shoulder to the local University pep rally where the students and team have started a huge bonfire. In a scene that is absolutely reminiscent of if not outright taken from director John Brahm‘s Hangover Square he ambles up a ladder and places the disguised body on top of the pyre. Vincent Price and Laird Cregar both follow their director in body disposal technique.
What really drives this film is watching Vincent Price. He’s a great actor and perfectly suited to these kinds of roles. He may play a bit too broadly for some taste but I along with many others enjoy his style. We can see him exhibiting the same kind of posturing he used when he played more mainstream characters in Laura and Leave Her To Heaven before he became entrenched in the horror genre. Attention should also be paid to Lenitia Lane who plays a landlady who writes mystery novels. Like an early version of Angela Lansbury in the Murder She Wrote TV series she is onto him. Lane’s character is immensely likeable. Eva Gabor known to many from the Green Acres TV show brings that unmistakable accent and sophisticated charm to her role here. Director Brahm uses the 3D effect here more for creating tableaus that reveal planes of depth. He’ll set something up in the foreground, middle ground and background giving each its own framing. We do get a couple of gimmicky gotchas. There is a guy who flings his toy yo-yos at us much like the man with the paddle ball toy in House of Wax.
I just saw the recently released Blu-Rays from Kino of two other films by John Brahm – The Undying Monster and The Lodger. This director really deserves much more recognition than the gets. He was capable of creating incredible atmosphere and moving the camera very deftly through scenes in some of his films. His works include The Undying Monster (1942), The Lodger (1944) , Hangover Square (1945), and The Locket (1946). He later worked extensively in television turning in episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Thriller, The Outer Limits and Twilight Zone. Brahm directed the fan favorite – Time Enough at Last (1959) with Burgess Meredith. He did Hot Rods to Hell(1967) another fun one with Dana Andrews. It’s nice to have a group of fine films from John Brahm come out like this in the HD format. The feature is only 72 minutes so there is plenty of time to take in these two great shorts that come with it.
Pardon My Backfire / Spooks! – 1953 Comedy Shorts Starring The Three Stooges
Two fun Three Stooges shorts both available in 3D and regular 2D make a terrific warm up for the main feature. Most of us are completely used to seeing The Three Stooges on TV or collected in some of those excellent DVD sets put out by Sony. Those were presented in the flat 1.33:1 format like TV used to be. Aside from the 3D what will instantly grab you is seeing the boys in a widescreen 1.85:1 presentation. Pardon My Backfire looks great. Spooks! looks off the charts incredible. Never ever thought I’d see Moe, Larry and Shemp looking this good. Both shorts are lots of fun with some exaggerated 3D effects. Everything from car radios to butcher knives and bats will come flying at you in these. Thanks to the dramatic increase in detail you can see the wire or string holding up the fake bat and guiding some of the thrown objects. You have no business complaining about that in a Stooges short.
Video – 3D in 1.85:1 and Regular 2D in 1.85:1
If you have a 3D capable player and TV the disc will default to 3D. Without that it will default to 2D. There is a marked increase in detail throughout the entire feature. The darker scenes and nighttime exteriors offer nice black levels and very solid contrast. The picture quality is excellent. Some of the interiors while still affording a nice sharpness look a little on the bright side for my taste.
Audio – DTS HD MA 1.0 in English with subtitles offered in English SDH
All dialogue is easily understandable. Music and effects fit well in the track.
Extras – Twilight Time’s signature isolated score track, Commentary by film historians David Del Valle and Steven Peros / Master of Fright!: Conjuring The Mad Magician / Original theatrical trailer
The production by Ballyhoo on the Master of Fright featurette is outstanding. The interviewees are lit in a fun and atmospheric way. Often their observations and comments are played over a short section of the film instead of letting the sequence go on by itself. After all we likely just saw the main feature. We learn a good deal about the elements that went into the film as well as the 3D aspects. The historians and film mavens featured are all fans of both Vincent Price and the movie at hand. Twilight Time appears to be including more fresh extras in their releases. Nicely done.
On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic:
Blu-Ray – Excellent
Movie – Good / Excellent